News and Innovation

Should all news be digital?

There are many battles in the analog vs. digital war.

It is a war which both sides will eventually win. (More about that below.)

This writer is rooting for the analog side.

During the last few days, or so, we raised some questions about news, newspapers, journalists, and their rights to existence.

Let's now look for answer these questions from a few perspectives.

News was started in 1998 by Naspers. The news24 concept was 'vigorously' pushed by the (then) CEO Koos Bekker.

There will be those who will correct my details here (as my information is not first-hand), but Koos (so the story goes) apparently hammered his fist on a table and stated that there is no good reason why news should be disseminated on what he (colourfully) called "'n platgemoerde boomstomp" (a flat-pummelled tree stump). I.e. the medium for circulating news did not have to be paper.

Koos understood the difference between a concept/need/proposition (on the one hand) and the incarnation of that concept (on the other hand). This was about news as well as about the medium through which news is distributed.

The concept of news is, of course, still very relevant and very important today. But, newspapers (and magazines/ books / other paper next to it too) should now be electronic - and not physical anymore. If you disagree, then please be patient, we will return to this notion again below.

Let's now focus on three of the reasons for this statement: accessibility, immediacy and origination.


Remember that (in 1998) it was still 'early days' in the lifetime of the Web. The Web was, in many ways, still in a even earlier state of development than generative AI is today. This was, for example, still the days of painfully slow modem-access.

Even so, Koos understood that the cost of production of newspapers would eventually be higher than the cost of production of electronic news. Thus, the financial barrier of access to paper-based news, for the consumer, would also, eventually, be higher.

Few physical newspapers (if any) manage to generate enough income through retail income. Advertising is often the primary source of income. And it was clear that advertising could also fund electronic news services.

So, one could thus, eventually, reach more readers through electronic publishing. These readers could also be located anywhere in the world - not just where a newspaper is sold. The potential reach is much wider.

Koos was not 'first' (and nor was he alone) with this type of thinking. And he probably also arrived at these ideas with at least some assistance from others.

Yet, this was top-level innovative thinking.


There was this old trivia question during the 1900s: Which retail product has the shortest shelf-life?

People often guessed that the answer to the question would be products such as milk (or similar).

But, the 'correct' answer was that it is a newspaper. In those days there were often two types of newspapers: the morning newspaper and the afternoon newspaper. So, a newspaper typically had a 6-hour shelf-life.

Koos knew that electronic news could be 'immediate'. The twice a day publishing routine could become a continuous process of publishing.


During most of the 1900s journalists, as well as a complex web of agencies, informants, contacts, networks (and others) created news content. Yet, there was an notion that 'common people' could be news originators too.

By the time 1998 arrived, there were already quite a few ways in which individuals and groups communicated on the Internet or (more narrowly) on the Web. Remember, again, that this was, for example, about 5 years before Myspace was created and 6 years before Facebook/Twitter (and a quarter of a century before X - ugh!), so such communication was still 'rough'.

It was also some years before alternative types of 'news' became available through platforms such as 4chan, Reddit, and others.

So, again, it was visionary to hold the notion in the 1900s that the Web would eventually allow news to be originated and created in 'other ways' (e.g. through individuals being at the 'right' place at the 'right' time when 'something' happens).

Some attempts to fast-track these alternative-news-generation platforms were already performed during the early 2000s.

This writer (as part of a software house) project managed the build of such a platform in 2007. Naspers/Media24 group was, of course, the client.

What transpired?

We live in a world that's built on top of visionary insights. We can see where the visionaries were right (or wrong).

We can also observe how certain of these electronic news providers have now moved behind paywalls. One of those that did so, of course, is News24. And we are thus (1) able to have opinions on this and (2) can compare these developments with the original ideas (but that's a discussion for another day).

Whatever one thinks of the legacies of services such as News24 - and about where they went right and where they went wrong, the fact is that the Naspers engine became the largest market cap in South Africa. Granted, they did not manage to do so through the News24 engine. They did so through Tencent.

How did Naspers do this?

The successes of both Tencent and News24 were as a result of vision, strategy and innovation.

Perhaps more importantly, these successes were as a result of Ventures (as opposed to just BAU and Projects). And, these successes were also as a result of creating separate engines to drive these new business ideas.

Naspers was prepared to venture into areas that could not yet be analysed.

We cover all of these types of approaches extensively in our book about Outperformance.

Neither 'Nas', nor 'Pers'

Naspers became what it became by moving past both of the concepts that form part of its name, 'Nasionale' and 'Pers' ('national printing') to, in effect, become "International Digital".

Digital Über Alles?

We promised to come back to this question.

Is 'digital' better for 'all' scenarios? The short answer is 'no' and also 'no'.

The long answer is perhaps another discussion at some later point. Suffice to say that this writer's house is still full of thousands of books and countless magazines (and even the odd newspaper) for reasons related to the beauty, art, ergonomics, tactility, texture and other extraordinary attributes of physical analog incarnations.

One cannot doom-scroll a good book.